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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 196 

Lot 196

Lot 196
Treasury 1, no. 99 (‘The Imperial Quest for the Pearl’)

Nephrite; carved with a continuous design of a chi dragon chasing a flaming pearl, which rests on a formalized wisp of cloud
Probably imperial, attributable to the palace workshops, Beijing, 1760–1830
Height: 5.91 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.56/1.2 cm
Stopper: nephrite; with integral collar, finial and ‘cork’; original

Jade House, Hong Kong
Hugh M. Moss Ltd (Hong Kong, 1994)

Treasury 1, no. 99

Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1997

This snuff bottle has several imperial features that together support a tentative attribution to the palace workshops, although it is worth stressing that independently these may not be exclusively imperial. It is adequately but not painstakingly hollowed through a wide mouth, has the flattened palace neck rim which appears on a number of nephrite bottles attributable to the court (see, for instance, Sale 1, lot 79 and lot 174 in the present sale) and retains its original stopper of typical Beijing shape, although these stoppers must have been produced elsewhere in response to court taste (we know, for instance, that they were made as original stoppers on a wide range of Guangzhou imperial enamelled snuff bottles).

The stubby little chi dragon here has its tail emerging almost at right angles to its broadly splayed hind legs, which is the case on several items with this subject attributable to the palace workshops. Another palace feature is the unusual form taken here from a metalworker’s shape with the gently convex surfaces of the body of the bottle joined at sharp angles. Vessels with these convex surfaces joined at sharp angles were a feature of Han and even earlier bronzes that were in the imperial collection at the time this bottle was made. It may also be significant that, although apparently taken from a metal form, the shape is, yet again, a modified meiping (‘prunus-blossom vase’) form.

If we take the known output of areas other than Beijing, such as Guangzhou for enamels, Yixing for pottery, Fujian for white porcelains, and Suzhou for jade carvings, chi dragons as the main decoration are surprisingly rare during the Qianlong period. In the exhibition at the Art Gallery of the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1987 (Tributes from Guangdong to the Qing Court), which included a very wide range of wares made in Guangdong province throughout the early Qing dynasty but mainly from the eighteenth century, not one item has chi dragons as its principal decoration. (We are not counting here border decorations and fillers derived from chi, or more often kui dragons, which by the Qing dynasty had become second nature to artists all over China as decorative fillers). On Beijing enamels, however, both on metal and glass, the subject does appear as principal decoration. At Yixing they appear only rarely.

At Fujian, on the well-known blanc-de-Chine range of wares they are extremely rare, again appearing only very occasionally and usually in a minor role. From the known production of Suzhou they are again largely relegated to a role as decorative borders, usually highly formalized and possibly even derived from kui dragons rather than chi much of the time. Although there is still the massive grey area of the large number of pieces decorated with the creatures where we cannot be sure of the place of origin, there is enough evidence here to suggest that the chi dragon was a particular favourite of the court during the Qing dynasty, probably particularly so during the Qianlong period and probably far less common from centres other than the palace workshops. We must then allow, of course, that it is possible for court designers to dictate the use of the beasts on wares made at distant facilities but for the court. There appears to be a large group of glass overlay bottles from Guangzhou that may be mid-Qing products made for the court and decorated with chi dragons.

It is obviously premature to state that any bottle decorated with a chi dragon comes from the palace workshops, or even that it is imperial, with or without a mark, for if there was a popular vogue at court, presumably it would have filtered out to other workshops that must have followed imperial fashion to some extent. It is, however, important to note the popularity of this creature in court decoration and its apparent relative rarity elsewhere. One final connection with the court which may help in dating this bottle is to be noted in an imperial jade seal decorated with chi dragons that are similar to the beasts depicted here. It is illustrated by S. Howard Hansford, Chinese Carved Jades, no. 86, and since it was made for the Qianlong emperor’s 70th birthday in 1780 it may suggest that this bottle comes from the latter part of the Qianlong reign.

This is not the Sotheby’s sale catalogue. This is a product of Hugh Moss for the purposes of this website. For the catalogue details please refer to Sotheby’s website or request a copy of a printed sale catalogue from Sotheby’s


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1446&exhibition=11&ee_lang=eng


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